CAMP ZAMA, Japan (April 2, 2020) – The promotion ceremony of Master Sgt. James B. Murray here April 1 included a few signs of the times during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to the limit on gathering size, only a few attended, and they met in the large front foyer of the U.S. Army Japan headquarters, standing with ample space between one other. Then, at the end, attendees gave Murray an elbow bump instead of a hug or handshake.
One sign, however, stood out from the rest: The command teams of U.S. Army Japan and U.S. Army Garrison Japan took time out of their busy schedules to attend, demonstrating how life goes on during difficult circumstances and the necessity to celebrate when possible.
Maj. Gen. Viet X. Luong, commanding general of USARJ, attending with USARJ Command Sgt. Maj. Scott A. Beeson, promoted Murray, who is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Camp Zama Provost Marshal Office, Directorate of Emergency Services, USAG Japan.
Promoting Murray was a special opportunity for him, Luong said.
“To be asked to promote somebody is really a privilege, but it’s even a greater joy and privilege when you have tremendous respect for that [noncommissioned officer],” Luong said.
Col. Thomas R. Matelski, USAG Japan commander, and USAG Japan Command Sgt. Maj. Billy J. Norman were also clearly pleased to witness the happy occasion.
Matelski said DES personnel have been carrying the lion’s share of the work in response to COVID-19, and he was glad to see Murray have a chance to celebrate during all the turmoil.
“It’s important to take a break and recognize his performance and also his potential because he’s going to do great things,” Matelski said.
Likewise, Norman said it was great that with everything going on in the world, they could still carve out time to celebrate Murray’s promotion.
“It is a huge deal, and we’re proud of him and everything he has done for us in the garrison,” Norman said.
No one, however, was happier than Murray, a native of Batavia, New York, who has been in the Army for 15 years, served first in the Infantry before entering the Military Police Corps and has deployed four times—twice to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq. His wife Anh attached his new rank to his uniform.
“I’ve been waiting for this for 26 months,” Murray said. “Over two years I’ve been on the list, so for it to finally be here, it’s tremendous. I’m very grateful.”
Luong said Murray’s accomplishment is particularly impressive because the selection rates for master sergeant have been only 10 to 11 percent over the past few years.
“Talk about best athletes, right?” Luong said. “These are the crème de la crème of our NCO Corps.”
In addition, Luong said Murray impressed him so much the first time he saw him, he recommended Beeson get him involved in the USARJ bilateral CO-OP program, where Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members receive training from their U.S. military counterparts.
Murray has done an exemplary job working with Japanese service members in the program, Luong said.
Luong said he would have liked it if more people could have attended the ceremony, but “this is most likely not his last promotion.”
“Based on where he is, I believe that he’s got a lot of legs under him, and I’m not going to be surprised if you’re a sergeant major in a few years if you continue to do the things that you’re doing now,” Luong said, addressing Murray.
Murray thanked current and past leaders for helping him, his wife for her support, and coworkers he described as the kind of people who “don’t quit when the day is done; they quit when the job is complete.”